Right Now: The Journey of American Youth Soccer Player Francis Castillo
From MLS’s Philadelphia Union in Pennsylvania to trying out at Spain’s La Liga club Cadiz CF…. few American players travel the globe developing their game and looking for the next step in their soccer career like Francis Castillo.
Francis Castillo, a talented youth soccer player hailing from Pennsylvania, is the essence of dedication in the pursuit of his dream to become a professional athlete. From leaving home as a teenager and traveling the world to improve his skills as well as go on trials at professional soccer clubs, this youth soccer player has not only the talent but the determination required for success.
Francis’ relentless focus on developing his skills is visible in his dedication — from waking up at 3 am every day when he was 17 years old for training at Philly Union to leaving home to play for International Soccer Academy‘s Schalke 04 Integrated team in Europe. Francis has played for Esperança de Lagos in Portugal and trained with Bundesliga giants FC Köln and Werder Bremen in Germany.
Born to parents from El Salvador and Nicaragua, this 18-year-old grew up in the USA and his passion for the game first started on the sidelines of his father’s Sunday soccer matches — in fact, it was while watching his dad play that he took his first steps.
Now, after a stint on the Nicaraguan National Team in January 2024, Francis’s journey has taken him to the south of Spain where he is on trial at the La Liga club Cadiz CF.
As a youth soccer player developing in the USA, Francis has proudly represented clubs such as MLS’ Philadelphia Union, FC Delco, and Allentown United FC in Pennsylvania. Last summer, he played for Global Soccer Development (GSD) and impressed its founder Eddie Loewen as well as his coach Patrick Weiser, a former Bundesliga player who holds a UEFA Pro license. Both Loewen and Weiser recognized his talent as an attacking player and encouraged him to join the International Soccer Academy and be a part of the Bundesliga club, FC Schalke 04, American squad on its Integrated U18 team. Weiser, who joined FC Schalke 04 as the head coach of the American Integrated team last fall was very pleased to have him on the roster in Germany.
Francis is a Game Changer. That’s why I reached out to FC Köln as I was very impressed by his mental strength.Patrick Weiser, former pro and UEFA Pro coach head coach of FC Schalke 04’s U18 Academy
Here is SoccerToday’s interview with our Player to Watch: Francis Castillo
Isabela Vernier: Hi Francis, thanks for taking the time to talk with SoccerToday! How was day 1 of your trial at Cadiz CF?
Francis Castillo: I’m feeling good. Yeah, I’ve been in Spain for two days now, and I’m excited. La Liga is a league I’ve always had a special love for so it feels surreal to be here now.
Isabela Vernier: How does this trial in Spain differ from your experiences of playing in Germany, the USA, or Nicaragua? Is there a significant difference?
Francis Castillo: I’m lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had so far in life.
I left home when I was 17 to play for the Schalke 04 Integrated Academy and feel like everything has been leading up to this opportunity. I approach being on trial with a mindset of staying calm, playing like myself, and not getting nervous.
Isabela Vernier: How old were you when you started playing soccer?
Francis Castillo: I started playing when I was six years old at a club named Lehigh Valley United. My dad was the one who got me into football, as he loved playing it when he was in El Salvador. His dad forbade him from playing soccer as a child because he was worried my dad would get hurt. So my dad had to sneak out to play soccer in the streets of Apancoyo so he introduced me to soccer at a young age.
Isabela Vernier: How do you maintain peak physical performance as an elite youth soccer player?
Francis Castillo: Nutrition is crucial for me. As an athlete, I notice that I am what I eat. I need to eat well to perform well on the field. If I eat too much I feel sluggish and slow and on the flip side, if I eat too little, I notice a difference in my endurance.
Isabela Vernier: As a youth soccer player, have you made sacrifices on the pathway to trying to become a pro — which is especially hard because the reward is uncertain?
100%. The pursuit of going pro can be very lonely at times, but I am driven by my desire to become a pro.
You have to have a lot of discipline to say no to all the temptations you face as a teenager and stay focused on your “job”, which is soccer. This is not easy for a teenager who also wants to experience life with his friends.
Isabela Vernier: What steps did you take when you decided to pursue football seriously?
Francis Castillo: When I was young, It was more about enjoying the game than setting myself apart at that age. I always love having fun with the game, scoring goals, and training.
Isabela Vernier: Coaches have praised your finishing and dribbling skills. What is something you’re currently working on?
Francis Castillo: I realized playing in Germany that European competition is much more physical, these players give it their all throughout every second of the match so I am working on increasing my endurance.
Isabela Vernier: What defines success for you in football?
Francis Castillo: Success, for me, is internal discipline, focusing on goals, and making the necessary sacrifices to achieve them — I am not in control of winning the Champions League so I know setting that as a measure for success isn’t smart.
Isabela Vernier: What differences have you noticed in training between American youth soccer and European academies?
Francis Castillo: European academies have more intense, physical, and tactical training sessions compared to American youth soccer. The focus is on quick mental adaptation and preparation. The speed of the game is much faster … and I saw this clearly when playing for coach Patrick at FC Schalke 04.
The one thing that is the same is the gym sessions, they are the same level. I think athletic trainers in America do a great job in strength and conditioning.
Isabela Vernier: How important is a coach in a player’s development?
Francis Castillo: A coach’s positive reinforcement, honest feedback, and guidance can significantly impact a player’s growth. On the other hand, coaches can also break a player. Especially a coach who is dishonest (not transparent or honest) can mess with a player’s mental health and make him question his self-worth.
Isabela Vernier: What do you believe is the secret to success in football?
Francis Castillo: The discipline to make sacrifices and stay focused on goals, even when facing challenges, is the key to success.
Isabela Vernier: What’s one food you miss the most when you’re away from home?
Francis Castillo: I miss my mom’s cooking, especially Salvadorian food like the national dish pupusas and Nicaraguan black rice.
As Francis Castillo takes on the trials at Cádiz CF, the echoes of his journey resound with determination and resilience. From the local fields of Pennsylvania to the international stage in Europe, Francis’s story exemplifies the sacrifices made in the name of a dream. His experiences, whether in a small town in Pennsylvania, an MLS Club or a Bundesliga Academy in Germany have sculpted him into a player whose commitment goes beyond the final whistle. As we eagerly await the next chapter in Francis Castillo’s soccer journey, his story stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of American youth soccer players who dare to dream and strive for international greatness.
For more information on Francis Castillo please visit his player page. Below are the teams he has played for:
- Allentown United
- FC Delco
- Lehigh Valley United
- Esperança de Lagos
- Philadelphia Union
- Global Soccer Development
- International Soccer Academy
- Schalke 04 Integrated Team (Francis on the FC Schalke 04 Website)
Clubs Francis Castillo has trialed with: